Bahrain protests raise big questions for Formula One

Posted on February 17, 2011


Speculation is growing fast that the first Grand Prix of the 2011 season in Bahrain may have to be called off because of political unrest.

Will Formula One race in Bahrain next month? Credit: Red Bull/Getty

Tonight, tanks are on the streets of the capital and reports suggest anywhere between five and 11 people have been killed after live ammunition was fired at demonstrators.

The GP2 event for this weekend has already been called off and serious questions are being asked about Formula One. The teams are due to arrive at the Bahrain International Circuit in just a couple of weeks for a test ahead of the first race on March 13.

It is very difficult to speculate on what the situation will be in one, two or three weeks time. Political uncertainty will remain but how it will be manifesting itself is anybody’s guess.

The race freight is already en-route to Bahrain so the sport is pretty committed to racing in the country if it races at all. It might conceivably be possible to redirect  the boats to Abu Dhabi but even there it’s hard to imagine it being possible to put a race on so quickly.

And there is a serious question of whether Formula One should be going there this year, even if it can physically make the trip.

Taking in thousands of westerners, including hundreds of journalists, for a massive international TV production seems to have the potential to stir up trouble. It’s not a case of the sport taking sides in the political situation but it doesn’t take a degree in international relations to see the Formula One circus as possibly exacerbating whatever is happening there.

Right now, I have to say I think it is likely the race will go ahead. There has never, to my knowledge, been a Grand Prix cancelled because of the political situation in a country – the sport went to the US in the immediate wake of 9/11.

The teams are all due to meet in Barcelona this week but it’s hard to see FOTA pulling out of the race unilaterally without cover from FOM or the FIA.

The Bahrain test is surely unlikely to take place – the obvious choice is to stay in Barcelona – but the race is very different.

Bernie Ecclestone is today talking up the chances of cancellation but this could simply be a political ploy to raise the stakes on the organisers. The final call will likely be wholly security based and it is, probably, possible to ensure the circuit is secure and transfers of team staff are protected.

But plenty of people will be uncomfortable seeing a sport wade into a very uncertain and volatile situation.

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